I think we would all like more literary output from Jane Austen.Â Whether it be short stories, letters, another novel or a journal. That is why this book is so intriguing and I had to have it – it’s a novel of Jane Austen’s journal.
Many rumours abound about a mysterious gentleman said to be the love of Jane’s life – finally, the truth may have been found …
What if, hidden in an old attic chest, Jane Austen’s memoirs were discovered after hundreds of years? What if those pages revealed the untold story of a life-changing love affair? That’s the premise behind this spell binding novel, which delves into the secrets of Jane Austen’s life, giving untold insights into her mind and heart.
Jane Austen has given up her writing when on a fateful trip to Lyme, she meets the well-read and charming Mr Ashford, a man who is her equal in intellect and temperament. Inspired by the people and places around her, and encourage by his faith in her, Jane begins revising Sense and Sensibility, a book she began years earlier, hoping to be published at last.
Deft and witty, written in a style that echoes Austen’s own, this unforgettable novel offers a delightfully possible scenario for the inspiration behind this beloved author’s romantic tales. It’s a remarkable book, irresistible to anyone who loves Jane Austen – and to anyone who loves a great story.
I had the same reaction to this book as to the film Becoming Jane – if I forget everything I thought I know about Jane Austen, then the movie/book is lovely.
The memoir is written from a distance. Jane Austen is at the end of her life describing the one significant romantic relationship in her life.
‘The memoir you have before you, although it covers an earlier period in Jane Austen’s life, was apparently written sometime between 1815 and 1817, when the author began to suffer from the illness that resulted in her death’
She meets Mr Ashford while holidaying in Lyme with her brother Henry – Mr Ashord saves her from falling from the Cobb. They plan a picnic for the following day, but Mr Ashford is called suddenly home (to Pembroke Hall Derbyshire – shades of Mr Darcy).
They meet again in Southhampton and develop a close relationship. He is her equal intellectually and encourages her to write again. They seem to be heading towards an understanding, but there are some doubts.
‘Yes, but when feeling and inclination are in harmony, people have been known to reach an understanding in a shorter time than that. Has he said that he loves you?’
‘He has not said the words. I believe her was on the point of it yesterday when we were in the garden, but her lost his nerve.’ My smile faded as a sudden, niggling voice of caution called from deep within me.
We later find out that he is already engaged. Jane is angry and hurt and she returns his letters unread.
She moves to Chawton and revises Sense and Sensibility. She travels to Derbyshire with Althea Bigg and her father and in a scene reminicient of Elizabeth Bennet visiting Pemberley Jane is caught visiting Pembroke Hall. Later she goes to London, at Henry’s insistence, to try to find a publisher.
Once again, she runs into Mr Ashford who explains his engagement (duty to his father) but tells her it is all but over – he is just waiting for Isabella Churchill (his betrothed) to inform her father that she is marrying another man.
They enter into a secret engagement and spend two glorious weeks together. Mr Ashford even helps Jane find a publisher. However, we know it has to end it’s just a matter of how.
Isabella Churchill’s beau turns out to be a penniless cad, Sir Thomas (Mr Ashford’s father) is ruined and Mr Ashford needs to marry Isabella (for her money) to save Pembroke Hall. Mr Ashford declares he will turn his back on it all become a clergyman or agent and marry Jane. Jane convinces him not to and thus they part.
Several of the scenes are lifted straight from the novels:
- Mr Ashford already being engaged (Edward in Sense and Sensibility)
- Mr Ashford visiting Jane and being confronted by Isabella (the meeting of Elinor, Lucy Steele and Edward in Sense and Sensibility)
- Mr Morton proposing to JaneÂ (Mr Collins proposing to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice)
However, I think that is the point to show how the novels might have been based on Jane Austen’s own experiences. The plot essentially follows Sense and Sensbility with a bit of Pride and Prejudice thrown in as well.
I don’t think the author quite captured Jane Austen’s style or tone – it’s lacking in wit. Also this novel reads like a novel not memoir – would a memoir contain so much dialogue and a description of the characters?
At four-and-seventy years of age, George Austen was still quite spry, with a shock of white hair, bright intelligent eyes, a sweet, benevolent smile and a grand sense of humour that inspired the admiration of all who knew him.
Imagine the scene, if you will: eight of us gathered in the parlour, perched on the sofa and an assortment of chairs. Henry, looking smart in his light brown full dress coat, sat reading the newspaper. My mother, Cassandra, Martha and Frank (home for his daughter’s christening, and his last month of home life before setting sail) were occupied by knotting fringe onto some curtains.
However, it is clear that Ms James has researched this period of Jane Austen’s life – she is where she is meant to be at the right times and Cassandra, Henry and Eliza are spot on.
I also now question why Edward did not offer the Austen women a house when George Austen died but waited several years.
If you are a Jane Austen fan, I think you will find this book fun, but only if you approach it with the right attitude – to quote Emma (in the Kate Beckinsale version) ‘Why not? Stranger things have happened’.